Dozens of onlookers gather out front of the United States Naval Academy’s (USNA) Bancroft Hall. The entire Brigade of Midshipmen is gathered, all present or accounted for. A silence washes over the crowd as companies of midshipmen end their facing movements.
Overseeing noon meal formation is the fall semester Brigade Commander Midshipman 1st Class Stephen Phillips. Holding the highest position in the midshipman command structure, he is responsible for much of the brigade's daily activities and training.
“I’m honored to be able to represent the Brigade of Midshipman as brigade commander,” said Phillips. “I’m excited about what the brigade staff is doing and what the squad leaders - our brigade’s back bone - are accomplishing.”
Commanding more than 4,400 midshipmen, the brigade commander position demands a midshipman who will best represent the brigade as a whole. While holding this rank, the brigade commander is expected to execute policies, ensure mutual respect for all midshipmen, maintain brigade efficiency, be sensitive towards general morale, and is accountable for brigade conduct, reporting deficiencies to the Commandant of Midshipmen, and recommending corrective action.
In other words, it's a lot for your average college student. But then, the students who apply to the Naval Academy tend to be more than average. Phillips recalls the moments in his life that ultimately led to his decision to apply to the Naval Academy:
“After Summer Seminar, I told my father that this is what I wanted,” said Phillips. “Before that point, I think he shied away to not have his career and choice influence my own."
“Our dinner table was always full of sea stories,” he said. “But serving was ultimately my decision. It was around 9/11 when my father was recalled to serve and that was about the time I first considered going to USNA. I value my friends and family most, and the ability to serve and make that sacrifice for them, I feel, is the greatest kind of gift I can give them.”
Born in Virginia Beach, Va. Phillips has called Annapolis home since moving here in 2001. He attended the University of the Maryland as an electrical engineering major after not being selected on his first application for USNA. After a semester he knew his heart was still set on Annapolis, so he reapplied - and got his wish. After a brief exposure to civilian college life, he was on his way to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.
Phillips sought leadership responsibilities early - as training corporal and brigade training sergeant during his third class year and a 7th Company squad leader during his second class year. These opportunities helped prepare him for the Brigade Commander Selection Board which measures a nominee's aptitude to set an example, operate efficiently within the chain of command, delegate and supervise, and maintain the standards of the Brigade of Midshipmen.
As a second class midshipman, he was leading his peers as a squad leader. He emphasized his appreciation for the squad leaders within the brigade, knowing the influence of the day-to-day, one-on-one influence that position holds.
“It’s a tough position, and I struggled sometimes. I had first class midshipmen in the squad I was leading, and had to learn how that relationship should work,” said Phillips. “I had a daily impact on the lives of plebes and youngsters. Reflecting on the small unit level gives me the opportunity to assist and weigh in on the squad leaders holding those positions now. I’m happy to try to help anyway possible because the squad leaders carry the brigade - they implement changes and have impact.”
Phillips does his best to hold the brigade to a motto of “Never Settle." He challenges the brigade to demand the best from themselves, inspiring the best in their leaders and followers, and expecting the best from their peers.
“We didn't come here for it to be easy, but when we are bogged down in academics, athletics, and military obligations, we are more likely to settle for the easy road than to stick it out on the hard one,” said Phillips. “Whether it's stopping a little early on a run, quitting on a homework assignment, or letting the dust bunnies build up to epic status, we all have moments where we know we should do something, but we settle for something easier.
"My goal is to identify those moments in our day and force ourselves to take the hard road, to never settle," he said.
Together with the brigade staff, Phillips is confident the Brigade of Midshipmen will rise to the challenge and strive to take the road less traveled. In the end, he knows they will look back and have greater appreciation for overcoming their challenges.
“I cannot emphasize how much the brigade staff does, how much work they do,” said Phillips. “It’s been an enormous amount of effort since before Plebe Summer. They are very dedicated. They make the policies and implement the changes that run the brigade, not me. I'm not trying to be noble or humble, it's just the honest truth. It’s hard work, and I’m proud of everyone for what they are accomplishing."
Phillips believes that whatever his future holds, USNA has given him the tools to succeed no matter the job or location.
“I’m not worried about where I go after USNA,” said Phillips. “No matter where I’m at or what I’m doing, I’m going to serve at my full capacity. Where I’m at is not the important thing for me. Serving is.”